Helvetius, referring to education in eighteenth century France, observed that men ‘are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education’.
This is not the modern view. There may still be societies in which men’s minds are stupefied by dogmatic instruction which inclines them to accept uncritically the views of political or religious authorities; but the general character of formal education has been profoundly changed by modern science and technology.
The greatest difference between primitive and early societies, and modern industrial societies, is perhaps that in the former education is largely concerned with transmitting a way of life, while in the latter, because of the mass of available knowledge, the application of science to production, and the elaborate division of labour, formal education not only preponderates in the process of education as a whole, but is largely devoted to the communication of empirical knowledge. One aspect of this change is indicated by the observation that in modern societies the content of education is less literary and more scientific.
A second major difference is that whereas in earlier societies a relatively unchanging way of life and sum of knowledge were transmitted, the scientific knowledge communicated by modern education is expected to change; moreover, education is increasingly required to prepare individuals for a changing rather than a static world.
It is from this aspect, that we can regard formal education in modern societies as communicating independently ideas and values which play a part in regulating behaviour. Malinowski rightly mentioned this feature in its rudimentary form in primitive societies when be included the ‘rules of craftsmanship’ as an element in social control.
Modern science and technology are not only the basis of infinitely more complex rules of craftsmanship but also of a general rational approach to nature and social life, which has an increasingly important role in establishing and maintaining social cooperation. More than this, scientific thought has, over the past three centuries, implicitly or explicitly criticized the ideas propounded in religious and moral doctrines and has largely been responsible for the changes which the latter have undergone.
The whole rationalization of the modern world, with which Max Weber was, pre-occupied, is connected with the development of science. And since the chief vehicle of this development, at least during the past century, has been the educational system, we can legitimately speak of formal education as a type of social control.
There is, however, still another way in which education has contributed independently to the regulation of conduct, and that is in the early socialization of the child. The work of educational reformers such as Montessori and Froebel has brought about great changes in the education of young children. Certainly these reforms in part reflect moral notions external to the educational system, but in part they have been influential in changing moral ideas in society at large.
So far as they were connected with scientific studies of the development of children, such as those of Piaget, they arose from the development of the social sciences. Moreover, being based upon this observation and analysis of the actual development of children’s activities, needs and problems, they can be regarded as having arisen very largely within the educational sphere itself, as independent discoveries.
We should observe, also, that the changes in the formal education system have themselves brought about changes in family socialization, aided by the spread of social science knowledge. In this sense the formal education of children has genuinely originated new forms of regulation of behaviour.
Education in a broad sense, from infancy to adulthood, is thus a vital means of social control, and its significance has been greatly enhanced in the last two decades by the rapid expansion of education at all levels in the developing countries, and by the equally rapid growth of secondary and higher education in the industrial countries. Through education new generations learn the social norms and the penalties for infringing them; they are instructed also in their ‘station and its duties’ within the system of social differentiation and stratification. In modern societies, where formal education becomes predominant, and where an important occupational group of teachers comes into existence, education is also a major type of social control (as the source of scientific knowledge) which is in competition and sometimes in conflict with other types of control. This conflict may become particularly acute with the extension of higher education to a much larger proportion of the population, as the experience of the last few years has shown in Europe and North America; and the educational system may increasingly provide one of the main sources of change and innovation in the social norms.